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To get right to the point, the WRAD 300 slotted into my review schedule in the wake of the overachieving $2,800/pr Hyperion Sound HT-88 monos. That created a problem. At $8,000 and into the 88dB Gallo Reference 3s, there was nothing that the 160-watt amp brought to the party that wasn't already in full boogie on the dance floor and as played to by the 18-watt paralleled SETs. Perhaps by virtue of both running KT-88 output tubes, the sonic differences between the amps at regular volumes belonged mostly into the realm of hairsplitting and overactive imagination. Does that mean the WRAD 300 is an overpriced luxury fit for the Robb Report?

That's a trick question, of course. Hence the answer is ambivalence: Yes and no. Yes, this amp is utterly redundant and completely unnecessary if you don't need its power. Then you have no use for its bench press thighs flexing like mad into low impedances; no use for its headroom reserves of which you barely use the tip of the ol' iceberg. But it becomes essential if you want to transfer the Hyperion sonics to Soundlabs, Thiels, Aerials, Dynaudios and JMlabs. As advertised, that is. Low-power triode sound for Martin Logans that drop to 1 ohm or lower at 20kHz? Now that's something I'd like to hear. Unfortunately, my personal sensibilities run completely counter to stocking, owning or requisitioning humdinger speaker loads. I don't believe in the concept.

You see, when you get right down to it, unfriendly speaker behavior is a catastrophic design flaw. It's made possible by the power-is-cheap paradigm. It allows certain speaker designers to be lazy. They get away with murder and condemn owners of their offspring to gas-guzzling SUV monstrosities - amplifier wise. If you want audiophile racetrack performance and four-wheel capability, you must pony up for the amp equivalent of a sleek Porsche, BMW, Volvo or Mercedes. If you want monster tow load fitness to boot? Now you might be plain out of luck. That's of course exactly where Terry Tekushan claims his amp enters - as a Porsche Cayenne that tows a horse trailer at 85mph up a mountain pass and in the left lane.

But what if you don't have a horse trailer to tow? Unlike Chip Stern's immortal memo to micro-power aficionados -- "more power ain't always needed but it's always welcome" -- I simply did not find this to be the case here. Within the constraints of my customary usage imposed by room size, listening distance and playback volumes, the additional 142 watts from Ohio weren't doing anything that would have validated Chip's belief or justified spending one cent more than $2,800.

Fortunately, Lee Landesberg, the US importer for Ars Aures speakers from Italy, assured me that his Midi Sensorials do cotton to power due to their band pass 11" Focal woofers loaded into asymmetrical chambers before their sound waves exit through front-firing wood-lined ports. At $20,000/pr, these were the kind of transducer leagues a prospective WRAD 300 customer might play in (though I'm not at all suggesting that spending such princely sums on audio is wise or even remotely necessary.) But first, a brief summary of the amplifier's performance into $2,995/pr flagship speakers.

Very linear, with a clear sense of sonic substance, the WRAD 300 applied a very fine feathering command over transients when compared to how the Canadian AudioSector chip amps handle leading edges. Where those are incisive and subjectively charged, the tube amp is a little rounder. This minor softness is most noticeable on percussive low-level details. Those take a step back in attack factor, slow down that snake-strike ferocity. Most tube amps perform a subliminal softening of transients as though wrapping each edge into a thin layer of cotton batting. The WRAD is no exception here. This particular aspect makes for textural mellowness. It removes some of the edge, zing and acid that live music has but which, reproduced, often becomes irritating. It also undermines a bit of microdynamic life and seems to clump together the finest of musical strands ever so slightly.

With the Zu Cable Varial interconnects and close-miked Pop recordings during happy hour levels, the 300 introduced a certain sharpness or bite which the single-ended KT88s in the Hyperions avoided. This energy appeared in the presence region to become apparent on female vocals in particular - a few degrees of brightness or glint that would occasionally pierce through and around such voices like sunlight reflecting off a window. Inserting the Turkish SilverFi cables removed that minor heat as did lowering the volume.

In general, the 300 only lost little finesse to the SET monos. That's truly a high compliment even though it may seem underhanded. To get that suave element with high-power amps is an often elusive Catch 22. The 300 creates dense images and, naturally, has seemingly endless power reserves into a load like the Gallos. It doesn't do the heightened presence thing of good micro-power valves but comes across as super robust, with slightly enhanced girth and the parallel reduction of ultimate speed that results in.

On this 'macho vs. sensitive type' axis, the WRAD 300 is far less a brute than its design brief, power rating and sheer weight would predict. That it can't entirely shake off the last bit of macho behavior when it comes to whirling around lithe Lady Music on the dancefloor - well, that's truly asking for too much. Owners of non-reactive speakers with sane impedance windows and non-destructive phase angles should know better than approach the WRAD 300 in the first place or with the wrong expectations in the second.

Time for the Ars Aures Midi Sensorial. While still not necessitating the amplifier's power in terms of speaker sensitivity and desired loudness, the large 11-inch woofers inside these speakers venting through the large rectangular slots on the lower front baffle clearly benefitted from the drive and oomph the WRAD 300 brought to the table. Rhythmically -- that sense that beats "rebound from tautly stretched skins" like a kid's finger flashes back when touching a hot iron skillet; that coiled sense an athlete conveys just walking, with that elasticity and springiness in her steps -- rhythmically the amp now shed pounds and gained in more vigorous reflexes. Yes, bass performance of this combination occasionally did give away its vented alignment with intermittent resonant ringing. But that wasn't the amp's fault but the speakers' and audible as well over my bridged Patek SEs ('m used to sealed bass systems in both my Zu Cable Definitions and Gallo Reference 3s and tend to favor those over ported bass systems).

My time with the Midi/WRAD combination suggests that if this amplifier can indeed make hey from its load-invariant promise to become the tube amp that could drive those Soundlabs or Magnepans -- for example -- then we'd have a rather unique beast on our hands, i.e. a push/pull amp that is closer to the single-ended credo than seems normal. On that key point, I have to rely on the designer's words and that of InnerSound's ex sales manager who has championed this amp ever since the original discussions with Mr. Sanders began. Wes Benders owns what I was listening to, just in different cosmetic guise. Needless to say, he's running InnerSound electrostats and swears it's the ultimate combo. Since none of my resident speakers tax amplifiers to even remotely that extent, I'm the wrong guy to do full justice to Terry's creation. Hence consider this review more a notification that the amp exists, a pictorial report on what it looks like and a teaser sonic commentary rather than an exhaustive elaboration on its performance when used as intended - as a macho-man cowboy riding bulls and broncos.

Into the Ars Aures speakers, Terry's was the best-sounding amp in my temporary review loan stable, besting my AudioSector and Bel Canto amps, the former in the drive/grunt department (translating as superior bass and better transients in the midbass power zone), the latter in the tone and body shop. The Pateks are dynamically more agile, subjectively faster and more jumpy but not fully in their element with lower impedances. Into my resident speakers, the WRAD was a little thicker, a little less articulate and defined - unused muscle getting into the way as it were.

In conclusion, the fact that this beefy push/pull amp managed to keep up as well as it did with Hyperion's single-ended variants is a major asset in my book. Just as 2 or 18-watt SETs fall apart when matched to the wrong speakers, so a high-power amp under-used and under-stressed isn't neccessarily fully in its element. Into the Gallos and Zus and the volumes I listen to, the WRAD 300 was microdynamically slightly damped and, with a very neutral and supremely resolved interconnect, not entirely free of "pentode bite" which was ameliorated with a different cable deliberately voiced for smoothness. As always in audio, finding just the right combination is key to ending up with a winning recipe.

My educated guess is that strapped to the right he-man speakers, the WRAD could be just the cherry in that recipe. Perhaps one of my colleagues in the press will contact Terry for a loan of this unit to report on what happens when asked to drive 4-ohm loads with extensive low-impedance drops, in sizeable venues that raise the decibels measured right at the drivers? I can only speculate on the results but this is a promising enough concept to deserve closer inspection. And here's another appealing concept - a "half-size" WRAD 150 that uses twin KT88s per side for 80 watts of 8-ohm power. If its pricing were to mirror the power reduction, even more listeners would flock to such an amp as one that matches their actual power/drive needs and financial ability. In fact, Terry tells me that even scaled down to 1/3rd, 50wpc into 8 ohms, the circuit would continue to behave in the same he-man fashion and allow for 150-watt peaks, i.e. provide unusually high dynamic reserves and headroom. Seeing that the original InnerSound deal evaporated due to a change of ownership, should Gayle Sanders of MartinLogan step in and snatch up this design? Just another one of those wicked thoughts...
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